European markets ended slightly lower Monday as investors focused on fresh Russian sanctions from the European Union and negotiations between Greece and the rest of the euro zone over its debts.
Greece in focus
The pan-European Euro Stoxx 600 Index started the week on a cautious note, closing 0.11 percent lower. Greece has dominated European markets in the past couple of weeks, after the election of a new anti-austerity government who have taken a harder line on negotiations over how to repay debts incurred as part of its bailout. The Eurogroup meeting of euro zone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday is expected to be a key part of these negotiations.
"Today's Eurogroup meeting is unlikely to arrive at any form of solution before the bailout program expires at the end of this month," Michael Hewson, the chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a morning note.
"A lot of people seem to think that it will be the Greek government who will blink first, but this seems unlikely because if they did the current coalition would probably not last five minutes before it tore itself apart with internal divisions."
New Russia sanctions
On the data front, the euro zone trade data showed a larger surplus than expected on Monday morning with exports rising 8 percent (year-on-year).
Elsewhere, there has also been a cease-fire in most of Ukraine, where military conflict with Russian separatists has been one of the biggest factors weighing on markets in recent months. However, some of the rebels have not observed the new truce, according to reports.
On Monday, the European Union placed more Ukrainians and Russians under sanctions, accusing them of "undermining or threatening" Ukraine's independence.
The new list - published on the Official Journal of the European Communities (OJEC) at 8.30 a.m. GMT - places "restrictive measures" on 28 people or organizations, including Russia's First Deputy Minister of Defense, Arkady Bakhin.
In Asian trading, Japanese shares hit an eight-year high on Monday, despite disappointing figures for Japan's economic growth. U.S. markets are closed on Monday for Presidents' Day.